Carbon tax: committee keen to ‘avoid what happened in France’

Oireachtas committee wary of gilets jaunes-style public backlash

A gilets jaunes protest in Paris. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

A gilets jaunes protest in Paris. Photograph: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

 

There is a cross-party “spirit of collaboration” within the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change, according to its chairwoman, Hildegarde Naughton.

Responding to reports the committee was divided over carbon tax, the Fine Gael TD said there was a determination to produce a strong and ambitious report on Ireland’s response to climate change.

Addressing the conference The Climate Challenge: Policy, Media and Society in DCU on Friday, she said carbon tax was not a silver bullet, but if setting a trajectory for rising carbon pricing was not achieved, “a key opportunity to effect a change in behaviour will be missed”.

She said publication of the committee’s report had been put back to the end of February but it was making good progress. It was likely that they would seek to put the committee on a permanent footing and for it to be given powers of oversight, she said. “That would be a strong democratic statement,” she added.

On increasing carbon tax, she favoured a dividend approach and ensuring there were supports in place for those adversely affected.

Mindful of the French gilets jaunes protests, she said she would support a “short, sharp consultation process” to evaluate how the tax would work and to identify challenges in different sectors.

She suggested the Department of Finance should lead communications on the tax “to avoid what happened in France”.

Frustration

The committee’s report would focus on engagement as a whole of society approach would be needed to tackle climate change, the conference heard. Ms Naughton accepted there was frustration about the State’s response, “but we need to plan it properly and get buy-in without delaying the process”.

Dr Hans Bruyninckx, director of the European Environment Agency, said climate change was a “systemic issue”, and while there was a greater sense of urgency about tackling it, a fundamental rethink of 21st-century living was still needed.

Whether one was talking about climate change or sustainability, the biggest challenge was, he said, “we will have 10 billion people on one planet”. Their aspirations for education, health and housing would have to be met “within the limit of one planet”, he said.

The problem would not be resolved with current technology, he said.

EU states had failed to arrest the decline in biodiversity and kept shifting deadlines, while there had been a 40 per cent species loss in recent decades, he said. The equivalent of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change was needed to protect global biodiversity.

“If we don’t fix this we will be part of the next 40 per cent of species that go,” Dr Bruyninckx predicted.

Car-dependent Dublin

Brussels and Dublin were among the most car-dependent cities in Europe, he noted, while Copenhagen had 83 per cent urban mobility: walking, cycling and public transport. “You can organise things in a different way. It’s governance. It’s not technology.”

Sadhbh O’Neill of Friends of the Irish Environment said that the fact that Ireland was nowhere near on track to meet 2050 targets was the responsibility of the State, not one business, household or individual.

FIE brought a legal action against the Government because there was no traction in reducing emissions and there was a fundamental problem with the legal architecture for climate policy in Ireland, she said. A decision in the Climate Case Ireland action has been reserved.